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It's okay, you're just feeling ambivalent

It's okay, you're just feeling ambivalent



I almost always struggle to describe my state of mind when asked to consider how I'm feeling. How do you express emotions that exist together but work in opposition to each other?

When invited to join a gathering with friends, I delight over the prospect of catching up but also yearn to be lounging at home. I'm inspired by an accomplished co-worker yet envy her. I feel happy about a new beginning but nervous and, at the same time, sad over the closing of a chapter. 

It's complicated. At times, I wonder if people could relate to my mind that's so often sent into overdrive with polarised thoughts.   

I thought what I was experiencing all along was 'ambiguity' from not being able to make sense of some of the events in my life. But wrestling with two conflicting feelings simultaneously is normal, it seems.

If you're anything like me, you should know that you're not indecisive or showing signs of weakness. We're talking about being in a state of what experts call: Ambivalence

According to a professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, Jeff Larsen, ambivalence means to feel good and bad at once. And it's not just the major life events that trigger this state, everyday happenings can too.

Ambivalence isn't the same as ambiguity

While ambivalence is commonly felt, it is equally commonly confused with feelings of ambiguity. In the latter, one feels vague and unclear. You're unsure about the meaning of your feelings.

I recently had one such bout of ambiguous feelings when I attended an ex-colleague's wedding. There were multiple layers of feelings but which held different meanings, depending on the context I placed them in. 

With an ambivalent mind, you know what you're feeling but are often torn because your emotions contradict each other. For instance, you love your sibling but find him/her annoying; you enjoyed how well-made a film was but disliked the dark energy it carried. 

Behavioural scientists believe that ambivalent feelings can also vary in intensity. One can be stronger than the others and sometimes the feelings – as a spectrum – just aren't that intense. When in a state of ambivalence, your feelings are defined, but are at odds with each other. They are pleasant and unpleasant, coexisting together. 


Why ambivalence affords us the best view

The ability to feel ambivalent is an evolutionary quality. As we navigate through life, we build experiences that teach us to be comfortable with shades of grey instead of just black and white. 

This is the opposite of binary thinking: Good guys versus bad guys; things we love and hate. Sometimes we're happy, other times we're sad. 

Often, reality is far more complex than that. We can like and dislike the same thing, just as we can feel happy and sad at any one point in time. That is why our thoughts and feelings become mixed and conflicted, causing us to be in ambivalence. 

It may be an uncomfortable state to be in but that doesn't mean it's bad. In fact, the contradictory feelings of an ambivalent mind bring nuances that could help us make good decisions. 

For example, we can like a person but be on the fence about whether to trust them. This ambivalence helps us to be more likely to exercise caution when that same person wants to involve us in some big-ticketed investment.

Antonio Damasio, a professor of psychology, philosophy and neurology at the University of California believes that being ambivalent about a decision means we take more time to deliberate over the information we have on hand. This prevents us from acting on impulse and landing ourselves in outcomes we might regret. 

Owing to this very rigour of thinking, we tend to make creative connections that could give rise to more innovative outcomes. 

Since ambivalence requires us to juggle various opposing thoughts and feelings, we can be more measured in our assessments of others. We might, for example, take into account the role one's circumstances play in the way they react to situations instead of attributing their behaviours solely to their personality. We are more inclined to understand than nosedive into conclusions that hold mere morsels of truth. 

In that sense, we could also give ourselves a fairer shake when events go wrong. Ambivalent people recognise that it isn't entirely their doing if things fail; there are the situational factors that are beyond one's control. Similarly, ambivalence right-sites our successes by acknowledging circumstantial supporters in aligning the stars. An ambivalent mind enables us to see a situation's full reality, learn from and correct our missteps. 

1633317026_BlogEntry5_Pic2.thumb.gif.56f02d7da3a3ed87724e522ea1501e72.gifIt can be professionally beneficial to express emotional ambivalence

A show of emotional ambivalence within a professional setting has often been taken to indicate fickle-mindedness and an inability to stand one's ground. But this doesn't always harvest the most robust and productive ways of working together.

Emerging research suggests that embracing ambivalence can create unique collaborative spaces and unlock the kinds of problem-solving that would benefit all parties. Decisions made following ambivalent considerations were found to span greater scope, bear more novelty and bigger risk appetites. 

To get there, let's start with ourselves. We could train our ambivalent mind so as not to tip into an unhealthy balance and then put it into practice.

– Denise

Media from: Instagram, Adobe Stock, Unsplash, and me


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Sounds like cognitive emotico dissonance 

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Why got so much time to think of non important things?

Nothing better to do?

Nothing better to think about?

If got nothing better to do, I suggest a nice holiday in Japan!

Fill the mind with more interesting things than ambivalence.


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I am guessing you are an INFP. 

The thing about our society is that the term success is being stereotype. 

- you need to get married before 30s to be successful

- you need to earn $8K to be successful 

- you need to drive a BMW to be successful 

- you need to attend ACS and shout i am not gangster, we are ACS boys to be successful. 


So there is alot of stigma out there I feel. Life in a full circle is just life and death, everything in-between is a experience. be a nice guy, do the right thing and you live your life peacefully. Don't need to compare lah. don't need to overthink. Life is hard already. I everyday cannot even decide what to eat for dinner liao, how to think of other stuff leh.  

The best life is to have up and down. That's when you know you have lived. 🙂 

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Thanks for the write up Denise. I enjoyed reading that. Its a lot more difficult to define emotions when there are more than two, which usually comes up when life throws a curveball or when a complicated situation comes along.

Learning to unpack these emotions is definitely a useful step in knowing how to deal with them. Life and living is not that simple sometimes.

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On 3/12/2024 at 6:09 PM, kobayashiGT said:

Life is hard already. I everyday cannot even decide what to eat for dinner liao, how to think of other stuff leh.  🙂 

If you have the money I know all the best places to have dinner.

I have the opposite problem to you 

I know where to eat just no money to eat there only.


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Anyway writer wrong meaning of ambivalent.


Meaning of ambivert in English

an introvert (= someone who prefers to spend time alone) and an extrovert (= someone who prefers to be with other people) in their personality: Ambiverts are sometimes also called outgoing or social introverts.

Ambiverts are sometimes also called outgoing or social introverts.

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